A Tale of Four Droughts

California is not suffering one drought, but four. Each is a metaphor of what California has become.

The first California drought, of course, is natural. We are now in the midst of a fourth year of record low levels of snow and rain.

Californians have no idea that their state is a relatively recent construct — only 165 years old, with even less of a pedigree of accurate weather keeping. When Europeans arrived in California in the 15th and 16th centuries, they were struck by how few indigenous peoples lived in what seemed paradise — only to learn that the region was quite dry on the coast and in the interior.

Today, modern Californians have no idea of whether a four-year drought is normal, in, say, a 5,000 natural history of the region, or is aberrant — as wet years are long overdue and will return with a vengeance. That we claim to know what to expect from about 150 years of recordkeeping does not mean that we know anything about what is normal in nature’s brief millennia. Our generation may be oblivious to that fact, but our far more astute and pragmatic forefathers certainly were not.